Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Greg Banks has returned to direct his adaptation of the children's classic, which he first staged at the Children's Theater in 2013. His ingenious conceit is to have the audience greeted by a stage cluttered with ladders, scaffolds, utility cabinets, and paint-splattered tarps. The head of the paint crew (Dean Holt) enters, preparing the work for the day, and is startled to see an auditorium full of people. He insists we all have the wrong date; they are painting the theater today and we need to go home. Of course, nobody budges. He demands to see if we have tickets, and when an obliging first row audience member hands one to him, he learns that we expect to see a rendition of Pinocchio.
The other four crew members arrive, eager to get to work. The leader decides maybe if they give us a little play we will be content and leave. He assigns parts to each of the painters and they devise costumes from paint smocks, knee guards, buckets, brushes, and anything else lying about. Thus, an upside down paper bag becomes a top hat, a shopping cart becomes a carriage pulled by a donkey, with a pair of paint brushes serving as the donkey's ears, and the zigzag of an expanding shop ruler becomes the jagged teeth of a whale. When the sinister Fox and his dimwitted sidekick Cat appear, a long red scarf is the fox's tail, a braided rope becomes the cat's tail, and the image of these two characters becomes indelible. Pinocchio's wooden nose manages to expand every time he tells a lie, with the help of still another item the painters have on hand. The abundance of Banks' invention is astonishing.
The show is also highly physical, with the painters-turned-actors-turned fairy-tale characters scampering up and down ladders, leaping off of scaffolding, swinging from hoists, running in frenetic circles, tripping over obstacles in their pathsall choreographed with precision, yet with the spontaneous feel of children recessing on an expansive playground. In fact, in the scene of bedlam as the boys at Playland have a jamboree of fun, one of the painters, Victor Zupanc, hangs back to provide music and sound embellishments, joining the action now and then to fill in a character. The others are played by Reed Sigmund, Elise Langer and Joy Doloeach bouncing from part to part like rubber balls, which they create not only with clever props and constant motion, but with their voices, their postures, their facial bearings, and that inner essence that tells us they believe with all their hearts in who they are portraying this very moment ... how can we not also believe?
Pinocchio> is the story of a puppet created by poor woodcarver Geppetto. The puppet has magical propertiesit can talk and move on its own, without any strings. Still, Pinocchio wants morehe wants to be a real boy. Geppetto tells him this requires him to go to school, but Pinocchio is lured instead into a puppet theater, a get rich quick scheme, a lengthy stay at Playland, and other misadventures. When he learns that Geppetto was lost at sea while searching for his wandering puppet, Pinocchio is stirred to take action and rescue his father.
The work is probably best known through Walt Disney's 1940 animated film classic (which gave the world "When You Wish Upon a Star"), but Banks draws directly from the original 1883 children's novel by Carlo Collodi. In the original, Pinocchio is a naughty boyor, rather, puppet from the start, interested only in pleasing himself, rather than the good little boy led astray that Disney depicts. The ill-mannered Pinocchio on stage at the Children's Theatre may be startling, but this makes his eventual transition to one who is able to put others ahead of himself"a real boy"all the greater a victory. The cricket here is a far less prominent character who taunts Pinocchio for his failings, unlike Disney's Jiminy Cricket who, once assigned to be Pinocchio's conscience, stays faithfully near him.
The cast members are all delightful, and they work superbly as an ensemble. Elise Langer could not be better suited to play Pinocchio. Her gleeful naughtiness, clipped puppet speech, knobby knees and elbows that seem forever on the brink of folding in, charming naiveté, and low threshold for temptation could not be more endearing. Reed Sigmund is a lovable, loving Geppetto, so delighted to have the companionship of the puppet he crafted from a piece of enchanted wood, then turns 180 degrees to be totally the villainous Fox and the treacherous Puppeteer. Dean Holt's physical agility is put to great use as the cricket leaps from the floor to a scaffold high off the ground, and as the good fairy on the hoist, along with the other characters he takes on. He also is master of the rubber face, able to contort his features to express any shade of any feeling. Joy Dolo is delightful as the dimwitted cat, sidekick to the Fox, as Lampwick, who leads Pinocchio into the gluttony of Playland, and others. Her characters seem to be most eager, and she brings both humor and vulnerability to them.
There are multiple opportunities for audience participation that were met with great enthusiasm by the audience at the performance I attendedyou may find yourself repeating the phrase "Hold your nose and down it goes" for some time after seeing the show. This show touches the heart of theater. It tells a constantly engaging story, done with the most elegantly creative use of what is on hand, and is composed of stellar work by everyone on stage and behind the scenes.
If there are young people in your life with whom you can share this joyful show, by all means do. But if not, don't deny yourself the great pleasure of experiencing Greg Banks' and the Children's Theatre Company's wonderful production of Pinocchio.
Pinocchio continues at the Children's Theatre Company through August 14, 2016, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN, 55404. Tickets are $15.00 - $49.00. Children's (up to age 17), full time college student, senior (age 65+) and military family discounts available. Ten percent discount for purchase of six or more tickets. For tickets call 612- 874-0400 or go to childrenstheatre.org. Recommended for Kindergarten and up.
Written by: Carlo Collodi; Adapted and Directed by: Greg Banks; Scenic Design: Joseph Stanley; Costume Design: Mary Anna Culligan; Lighting Design: Rebecca Fuller Jensen; Composer and Sound Design: Victor Zupanc; Dramaturg: Elissa Adams; Stage Manager: Jamie J. Kranz; Assistant Stage Manager: Alyssa Stafne
Cast: Joy Dolo (Cat, Lampwick, others), Dean Holt (Cricket, Good Fairy, others), Elise Langer (Pinocchio), Reed Sigmund (Geppetto, Fox, others), Victor Zupanc (musician).